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Tim Winton

I know a few others on here are interested in Tim Winton's writing, but, having been unable to find earlier discussions, I thought I would start a new thread. My only previous experience of this author was 'Dirt Music', which I found very impressive, bringing out the extraordinary aspects of very ordinary lives.

I have just read 'The Turning', a collection of interlinked short stories, which very much confirms my earlier view.  The collection starts with a quotation from T.S. Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday', briefly 'Because I do not hope to turn again,/ Let these words answer,/ For What is done, not to be done again', and throughout the stories, I was reminded of Eliot's meditation in  'Four Quartets' on the unity of time present, time past and time future, or as  Winton expresses it 'Perhaps time moves through us and not us through it...the past is in us, and not behind us. Things are never over.'

Many of the stories are grim, some of the characters far from sympathetic, yet there is always a focus on the harm done, often unconsciously, upon the crucial moment, the death, the desertion, after which things will never be the same again.

Tim Winton does seem to me to be fairly special, to have a voice that is quite original. While many of his characters exist on the margins of society, and are often not people we might chose to associate with, they never totally lose their humanity or their potential to arouse, if not liking, at least empathy. On the other hand, some, such as Vic, who is perhaps the strongest link between these stories, engage our (OK - my) sympathies to an almost painful degree.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Chris I have only read a couple of Wintons books but was very impressed with his writing. In Dirt Music I felt his descriptions of the Australian landscape was fantastic. As you pointed out, his characters are often not "mainstream" but are so believable and interesting that they draw you into their lives. In some respects I am reminded of Richard Yates who makes grim, depressing stories so compulsive. Winton certainly has a similar talent. I have Cloudstreet to read and love the sound of his latest, Breath, so expect to hear more on the board.

Thank you Chris-1 for focusing on Tim Winton.  It is quite a few years since I read any of his novels and I found them gripping.  The two still on my shelves are Cloudstreet and The Riders and I strongly recommend them both.  It will be interesting to hear what you make of Cloudstreet, iwihsiwas.  The Riders includes links between Australia and Ireland and I was especially moved by it.

Your posts have prompted me to keep an eye open for more of Winton's writings.
Green Jay

Has anyone read Breath yet? It's out in paperback but I haven't got it.

Oh, I missed this thread.

I haven't read Breath yet - good to know it's out in paperback - will probably have to wait a bit longer, though, as have a few things lined up.

I am a big fan of Tim Winton's writing, having discovered him at an arts festival where he was speaking years and years ago and being entranced by his storytelling.  I have been equally entranced by his novels, and second Fiveowls' recommendation of The Riders, which is one of my favourites.

I haven't read The Turning, but will, inspired by your post, Chris!

I love the way he writes about very ordinary people but presents their lives as being in touch with deep and often mystical areas of human experience.  Someone described Cloudstreet as Neighbours meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and while I find that misleading in some ways, I can see what they mean!  He has the ability to turn from earthy to lyrical, from mundane to sublime, at the flick of a pen, and it all weaves together beautifully.  A great storyteller with a truly poetic touch.
Green Jay

We discussed Tim Winton somewhere else too, Evie, perhaps the current reads thread some months ago, which you may have missed. I only discovered him last year and everything I've read so far has had me transfixed. First Dirt Music, then The Turning, then The Riders. I have a non-reading but surfing son who might just read and enjoy Breath.

What you say above about ordinary people is just right. I like novels that look into the day to day work and activities of people's lives, what they do with their time and skills - oh, goodness, that sounds both crass and dull, not what I mean at all - rather than simply focusing on the emotional parts of life or their past or their inner turmoils.

We have talked about Winton quite a lot in the past (well, I have, anyway, and certainly remember other discussions with others!) - I remember some negative feedback about Dirt Music (which I *loved*), but can't remember now who didn't like it much.

I heard Breath being read on Radio 4 when it first came out, but didn't listen to much of it - I find it slightly annoying that R4 often reads books, usually in abridged form, before we have a chance to read them for ourselves!  But what I heard was excellent, so am looking forward to reading it.

Cloudstreet is amazing, for any who haven't yet read that.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:

Cloudstreet is amazing, for any who haven't yet read that.

Not read this one, somehow the title put me off. I was thinking of Cloud Atlas, which I got stuck on !

Please can you tell us a bit more about it, Evie.

Cloudstreet is, for me, the one of Tim Winton's books that combines most successfully those two essential features in his books of ordinary, grimy everyday life, with its challenges and its humour, with the sense of a deeper current at work, a mystical current that is rooted in and yet transcends everyday reality.

It is the story of two working class families, the Lambs and the Pickleses (even that is quite funny - Lamb and Pickles!), who are neighbours in Cloud Street in an Australian city.  The Lambs work hard to try to earn a living, the Pickleses prefer to try their luck at gambling and are a bit shiftless.  The book follows their lives over a period of a number of years - no more story than that really!  But it's funny and moving by turns, a sort of modern day Grapes of Wrath, though again, a slightly misleading comparison - just reminds me a bit of that, in terms of people trying to survive poverty, a rambling family (or two here) with an array of great characters, and a constant tension between the material and the spiritual worlds.

It's very Australian - people say 'fair dinkum' and call women 'sheilas', and all that - and the writing is fabulous, there is a down-to-earth energy about it.

I am not sure what else to say - it's a great yarn, it's hilarious, it's sad, it's full of shouting and full of love, it's down to earth and transcendent, all of it woven together by this great storyteller who seems to love people and to love life.

I wonder if I would prefer Cloudstreet to The Riders. I have just read The Riders for the second time (we are reading it for our book club).  I can see the absolute skills Tim Winton brings to the writing, and I enjoyed very much the character of Scully, who is just the sort of book character I like, a person not immediately attractive to others but trying to do his best in difficult circumstances.  I found Billie interesting too, though realistic her age was too young for the maturity of thoughts and actions she had.

But I found it a bit hard-going - perhaps I needed to read it too quickly.  But there was a great deal of description - not superfluous description, it all adds to the pressures on Scully and to the actions, but I am not particularly fond of description, even when beautifully done and suitable.  I also was unsure of just where the riders fit in - I am not very good with allegory and allusion; the fact that they form the title means they are not just there for a bit of interesting extra, but must be quite central to the book.  But I couldn't really work them out.  

And I have no idea, when after two reads, just why and where Jennifer disappeared to.  I know the focus of the book is on how people cope in these situations and in some ways Jennifer was almost irrelevant, but I would have liked more hints.  Why would she just abandon her child mid-journey.  

The other thing I found difficult was the attitude of the people in Greece and Paris - why was everyone so anti-him, when that didn't seem to have been his experience earlier.  This may be part of my difficulty with it - as a NZer, the idea that an Australian was treated as somehow inferior is unpleasant to me.  Reminds me of Henry James! Portrait of a Lady, anyway.

Having said all this, I though Scully was brilliantly characterised; seemingly quite a simple person with simple desires, he shows how the most ordinary-seeming person can, when circumstances change, become super-charged with emotions he was hardly aware existed before.  Both he and Jennifer do show how selfish people become when they chase a single focus - Jennifer on her art and 'finding herself', Scully on finding her and getting his life back.  Billie becomes secondary to them both.  

I found similarities to The Road in this story of a man and his child seeking something almost indefinable and not really achievable.  But in this book the resolution presumably means some sort of long-lasting relief at the end, for Billie, if not so much for Scully.  

Have I got anything of this right, or am I totally missing the point?

Cheers, Caro.
Joe Mac

I've read three Winton books; Dirt Music, Cloud Street and Breath, in that order.
I was spellbound by Dirt Music. Sucked right in. I believed in the characters and cared about what happened to them.
Cloud Street I found no less authentic, but I did find myself at times wishing 'something would happen.' This no doubt says more about me than the quality of the storytelling, but the characters did not resonate as closely for me.
Breath can leave you breathless, but unlike Dirt Music, I did not fully sympathize with the characters. Believable, though, and very skillfully evoked.

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